For Release December 17, 2006

Plan Ahead for Safe Winter Travels


by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I think we all saw media reports of the unfortunate death of the storm stranded traveler in the Pacific Northwest a few weeks ago. If there is one lesson to be learned from that tragic event, it is that winter travels can turn from ordinary to life threatening in short order. Therefore, it is imperative that anyone traveling in winter weather prone areas be well prepared before they hit the road this winter.

Winter weather perils are not just snow, but they include ice and especially, cold temperatures. Snow and ice can cause travel difficulties, but cold is the killer. It doesn't have to be bitter below zero cold either. Temperatures above freezing can create hypothermia and be just as deadly as twenty degrees below zero.

The first step in surviving winter weather problems is preparedness. Trust your local mechanic to have your car ready for cold weather trips. Never let your car's gas tank drop below half a tank, even if you think you are only going to be making local trips. Keeping that tank as full as possible can give you hours more of potential survival and rescue time. Keep your car stocked with extra cold weather gear. Coats, caps that cover the head and the ears, gloves, boots and blankets should be stockpiled in the vehicle. Even a grocery bag full of newspapers can be a help. General Washington's soldiers at Valley Forge can testify to the insulative properties of newspaper!

You may even want to consider some additional simple items to stock in your car. A couple of candles and a large can, like a coffee can, along with some matches or a lighter. A candle in a can will produce enough heat to ward off frostbite on the fingers and allow you to save gasoline. Some high energy foods like granola bars, chocolate bars and nuts can keep your energy levels up. A few bottles of water can go a long ways to staving off dehydration as well. You can also fill the empty bottles with snow and carefully melt the snow over the candle. Or keep a heat proof cup to melt snow in. You should never eat snow, except as a last resort as it will take critical body heat to melt it and increase the risk of hypothermia.

Perhaps the most critical item for surviving winter weather travels is common sense. Right behind that is patience. If adverse weather is occurring, or about to occur or you are heading into adverse weather, just don't go. You are far safer sitting at home, be it your own or a friend or relatives home, then sitting stranded in a ditch. That means you need to be paying attention to local forecasts both where you are and where you are going. One of the problems with our satellite engaged society today, is that we all too often aren't listening to a forecast from a reliable local source.

You also need to let people know where you are going, and when you expect to get there. If you don't show up, someone can start looking for you. With the plethora of cell phones, we often develop a false sense of security. We think that if we have a problem we can call and get help. Unfortunately, in truly severe winter weather, you may be able to contact help, but they won't be able to come and get you until the storm subsides.

We live in Kansas. We will have winter weather of some degree of severity, almost every winter. Keep your plans flexible. Recognize that Mother Nature is bigger and more powerful than us. Stay home, use common sense if you have to travel, and if you get stalled out, never leave your vehicle to go for help!


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